Transcript: Nurturing a new generation of leaders with Emily Carr
Hi everyone and welcome to the future of work in construction Concast. I'm delighted to introduce our next guest Emily Carr.
To give you some background, Emily works for Kier Group and is an ambitious hard-working chartered architect design manager, passionate design risk management in conservation, architecture, residential and community enhancement. Emily believes that good design risk management comes from collaboration, lateral problem solving and a true understanding of the brief. Emily, welcome. It is lovely to be speaking to you this Friday morning, thank you for joining me.
I would love to hear more about your role and what your main responsibilities are at Kier group.
Good morning, thank you very much for inviting me to speak with you today. I'm a design manager at Kier Construction and often people don't quite know what a design manager is.
So the best way I describe it is if the design team consultant team are the right hand, the design manager is the left hand and we are very much working with the nature of all of those components that the design team have. They have unique qualities and experience and we are trying to mirror them but then embrace them kind of fit together with them to enable their design to come into being by offering build ability advice and where possible we offer suggestions of how to how to make design solutions simpler and cost-effective. So it's very much a role that by having an architectural background is helpful, but you don't always have to be an architect.
I think particularly with the type of works that I work on, my experience with conservation architecture and working with and listed buildings and sensitive fabrics really helps because not everyone and has that experience and it's nice to show our client and that we have that sensitivity.
But yeah, there's a really exciting role.
That sounds great. I mean, I know when I appreciate were talking about like, you know, you quite a newbie to the sector construction sector, so I'd really love to know more about how you came into this career and what challenges you faced as well as you've become you know, more senior and progress through.
It's really honest answer of mine. So I'm an artist, I’m an oil painter. My grandmother's quite a well-known artist in Ireland and I've been drawing as long as I can remember, I enjoy maths and science and I like problem-solving and both my parents are doctors.
It's kind of amazing, no pressure on you.
Exactly, it's a lovely combination of how do you fix things, or how do you make things better but part of the team. Obviously having seen my parents kind of work with people and the community their entire lives your kind of that's how I have grown up as part of that helping mode.
I kind of got to the end of school and I was like, oh I don't actually really know what I want to do, but I'm interested in these three subjects. It was my art teacher that said have you considered architecture and if truth be told, I was really interested in the history of art and architecture, so I went to uni with an with an idea in mind of what it was going to be but I wasn't quite sure what an architect was or rather what it was going to be for me.
I think again being really honest with you, throughout my university education I often felt a little bit lost and that was because the people that we were encouraged to echo and look up and read about and write about they were all well quite frankly they were all men and I was a bit like ah!, Where do I fit? I don't think I want to be Norman foster. I don’t want to be this kind of people! Does that mean that I am not part of this.
I left the university being really inspired, I had a wonderful time at Cardiff University and that's a fantastic place to go. But there was a little part of me that was like, I'm not sure and that kind of took me into practice and I completely fell in love with practice, but I realized that the irony is that you were spending a lot of time just drawing and when I was my part one and architectural assistant job.
It was a very Practical job where I was looking at the existing A-frames over frames of listed buildings in Warwickshire and I completely fell in love with being that close to a building, so then when I moved to London for my second job after finishing University completely, I missed it.
I think I was fortunate enough, I volunteered in Nepal in 2016 following the dreadful earthquakes that took place over there in in 2015 and I volunteered with two NGOs to build schools and then I ended up working on a on a temple and the UNESCO World Heritage site, which was fantastic. I completely got the bug about being on site.
When I came back, I reached out to this subcontractors and main contractors that I had worked with previously and asked, what is design management? the rest is history. So it's a long answer, It is a journey.
You know what, the first thing that strikes me is you go to university but you're not often aware of the wrong models that you're given in terms of architecture.
For me I did a computing degree back in the day and obviously it was very male-based but also since I've been doing coaching, you know the people that I read are generally men, basically. I haven't read lots of women and you because you're aware of that you want more role models or maybe your grandmother who is the well known artist in Ireland. They had role models I suppose, of female role models which is an incredible I think Yeah, it really helps.
Working in Enesco world heritage site, you know about how inspiring that is, giving opportunities to go into the other countries and do stuff like that, you come back inspired. Whereas in the same environment the same culture, you don't have a chance to diversify.
I think reciting your stories brilliant.
I think it's certainly a combination of things. My Mum is my complete inspiration, I think she's fantastic and what she's been able to do during her career. I've been brought up with two working parents who have done a lot, worked really hard . Certainly with this sector and coming across into construction, I'm sitting there going, we can do it both women and men can do it.I think the sector just needs to stretch its mind a little bit.
It is actually a wonderful story that you have. The thing is as well, you know there is that image of the sector when you type in construction with hard hats and men and that sort of stuff as well. What do you think that India's industry should do in order to change the image of a sector?
There so many in real life. I think the first thing to say is systemic change doesn't happen overnight. I think that, So long as more people buy into the idea that if you can contribute to that monumental shift in perspective, in the way that we're working and the types of people that you would normally see. If you think of it, you go back a few generations and what has change and what we accept and what we know is normal in our society. It's proof that systemic change does happen and it's this rolling wonderful glacier that changes the way that we work in the environment that we work in.
I think that the high level answer is just keep talking about it and don't be afraid to be visible. I would say this to every person, man and woman within this sector. You owe it to yourself and your future selves. It's not diversing and making this sector more inclusive. It isn't just about women, it's about everybody at every level, raising everyone up so that equality does exist and we can all be compared and our merit can be recognized. Rather than what we are, all the bodies that we inhabit, where we come from. I think it's so much more than giving women pink hats!
Then we get pink hats! I want one!
Yeah well, I mean, this is the thing, some people do, some people don't. I work on site quite often and that is the last thing I want. It shows that I'm different. Actually I don't want to be treated differently, I just want to be treated equally. So I would say that it is combination of awareness and awareness is a learning experience and we will be forever learning. What we talk about now, in fifty years time hopefully will be normal, similar to what was revolutionary 50 years ago is now, hopefully normal. So it's is about stretching that field of comfort and embracing everyone and seeing them as the asset that they are.
Never actually realizing that you get given pink hats!
Like not everywhere!
It's so right, in 50 year time we could be talking about the same thing and will the same thing occur? Maybe it will, but I think there does need to be more momentum for this change to occur especially in certain industries. I think the change is occurring but I think it just needs to be a bit more.
Yeah! I know I only started and answering the first part of your question and you mentioned about challenges and I think one of the greatest challenges that I face and often face was slight imposter syndrome and that's because there's no one that I can kind of relate to. It's very difficult trying to carve your way through an environment that doesn't look like you. Role models I think were really important.
It's not just about, oh she's a woman, right let's put her on every single panel known to man because she's gonna represent women in construction. No, she should be representing her role and it shouldn't just be the fact that she's a women. She should be the health and safety adviser for the company, rather than representing women.
I think role models need to be visible and they need to be visible at every level, so that everyone can reach out to these people and that culture can kind of grow. It's not just one particular person looking for another particular person, it's everybody. I think that's one of the challenges that I've used to face is. I'm often the only woman there and certainly in management, but it's never phased me. Sometimes it's difficult to see where you're going.
You don't always have those mentors or those sponsors right to see through those role models.
I cant quite remember the phrase, but if if you can see it, you know, it can happen.
Absolutely it's so true. I know, I went through lots of impostor syndromes. You know, when I was getting through the industry, not having anyone who let me in. That was hard because I then I felt I wasn't able to progress, because there was no room for me. Now I know that that's not true. I think people of your generation are breaking through which I love so much. Actually, your the role model
I think for all these amazing women coming up, which is really exciting for me, as well as fantastic!
I'll check in a years time!
During the past year through the pandemic, George Floyd and black lives matter protests and companies are trying to do some more initiatives around diversity equity inclusion. Are you involved a part of that? Or what key group around?
Currently I'm involved in quite a number of things actually. The first thing I will mention is that Kier have recently launched their Kier inclusive network, so kin. I believe that they have had EDI initiatives that have run in the past but this is a fresh face approach to getting people to talk about it within the company. This relatively new but we are undergoing our own survey so that we can understand our own demographic and know where we are presently and know where we want to go. I think it will become an incredibly active quarterly meetings, where a lot of people are coming together and splitting up into various different groups to bring about these changes locally. I think that it's very much a growing thing, which I am really excited to be to be part of and to have arrived at Kier at the start of the process.
I think the other thing that I'm part of is a newly established collective of people in their early careers on behalf of the construction Scotland Innovation Centre. We are soon to announce, but I can I can tell you the name. You heard it here first, we are called the Built Environment Change makers. We are a group of people in their early careers focusing on sustainability, equality, diversity, inclusion and skills. As a way of trying to advocate and contribute to young people, or rather people in the early careers in construction, coming into the workforce.
That initiative is ongoing. I am part of not only the facilitation teams and one of the Vice chairs but I'm also one of the people in involved in the diversity inclusion and subgroup. At the moment we are doing a similar sort of thing as to what Kier is doing and understanding where we are and here we are and where we want to go. Knowing that it's going to take quite a lot of time, but we're hoping to use our own network that we have presently to reach out to different organizations to learn from them. Effectively we would like to create a platform to them disseminate all of that information because I think information and knowledge is key. Certain things like this are fantastic to reach out and connect.
For anyone who's listening, if they want to talk to us, or me, please do. It's all about, we can do all this together, we can't do this alone. We've got to do this together. I think the more people that talk about it, the sooner this huge shift will change.
I think it's amazing. Over the last few years, getting involved in these initiatives, which really are making changes, not just about unconscious bias training, It not just about one day. It's about pushing stuff forwards long-term and really making that difference. Making the industry appeal to other people, younger people, to people in ethnic minorities, a wide range of ethnicities and disabilities as well, and I think that takes time. I think once you are committed to an initiative or a cause you'll see those results. Definitely!
I don't want to slag off the sector too much. There are some really good qualities about it. I think one minor point, which is a shame still, as it seems quite close door. It's actually impenetrable to get in and to find or see where all the vacancies are, or anything like that and graduate programs. If you can to try and open up to everybody and make it public, rather than just, oh I know this person, you should go and see them.
I know it's changing and I know in the larger companies, it is more and more like it is an unconscious bias public advertisement. The construction sector needs to see It all as a positive attitude, towards collaborating with people from other sectors. Look at what we have learned in the last 18 months about all the various platforms, that we are. We can speak to people across the country internationally and it expands what we're able to. I think we're severely behind other sectors that have been working on teams or zoom for years.
Maybe we should be looking slightly outside our sector and learning from other people and bringing it back in.
Absolutely that's the only way we are going to learn. It shows over the last year or two that humans can adapt pretty well so I think that’s something to learn from. That sounds amazing the work you do. Thank you for that exclusive as well.
Before I let you go I'd love to ask you one last question and that is, if you had an uncomfortable question to ask your industry, what would it be?
I know that in our in our pre-check we were talking about this and there are lots! I think there are two questions I would probably want to say.
It's all very well trying to get young people in to the sector, going and talking to schools and approaching colleges. If you don't change your face of construction, the potentially, quite aggressive workplace environment, certainly on site, you will never capture the next generation and retain them as the asset that they are. I would be saying to people, you need to update yourself and you need to update the stereotype around what people see when they are looking outside the sector in.
The other one that I would say is, dare to embrace the technology that we have learnt in the last 18 months, please do not go back to how it used to be, that presenters that ran the sites and the officers that are part of a sector.
Allow people to work from home, allow and embrace agile working. Agile working is different to flexible working. I think agile working is the way the construction sector can grow and thrive. It's about focused time with individuals, with clients on site, in the office and to acknowledge that not every role in the sector requires people to be in the office.
For example, I love being on site and I would rather be on site and drive all the various hours I have to but to be able to work from home, when in reality people would pre Covid be in the office. It doesn't make sense, let me have my focus time on the site and then let me adopt the agile way of working. By enabling my focused time solely to be at home, so when I'm not required, and to be with the client. So that's what I would say, dare to embrace this technology, please don't bounce back to how it used to be. You will you will lose and you will lose people and you will not be able to retain or bring in new people and that is what this sector so desperately needs.
Yeah, I completely agree with you. They are really impactful questions. I've seen really encouraging companies that have adapted, they are allowing their the employees to work flexibly and in an agile way but then again there's like banks for example, that aren't. Its that thing that comes sometimes like, please let everyone be able to work the way they want to work and be productive in the way they want to be productive as well.
It shows that we've done pretty well throughout the first pandemic.
I think you take people for granted too, people are ambitious they're gonna work and they're gonna work hard and they'll appreciate you not thinking that you have to be breathing down their neck to get something or to get a job done.
I think the last thing I would say is that Covid has exacerbated the existing circumstances and the existing situations we had with respect to women in the construction sector. I think, It you would be it would be foolish to not acknowledge it now. I think it's all very well saying if you are an equal practice on paper, but you really need to take a cold hard stare of yourself in the mirror and say, well where are these people? Because if they're all in one particular area, then actually and are we as equal and diverse as we say we are? There is no there's no room to hide anymore, so don't be afraid of that elephant in the room, embrace it because it will help us grow and we need to grow.
We do 100% Emily, your story is is fantastic and I have loved your honesty throughout this conversation. It's really important to be honest, so other people can be inspired by it and and you're showing the problems but also the positive sides are things as well.
So, I've really enjoyed our chat today. Thank you so much for joining me and today on this Friday. I know that people are going to listen and learn I want to connect with you, so please do reach out to Emily on on LinkedIn. I certainly thought so.
Thank you so much everything and take care.
No problem at all. It's my pleasure.